Jon Anderson, Patrick Moraz discuss Yes’ Relayer: ‘Very close to the edge of jazz rock’

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Relayer, released 40 years ago on November 28, 1974, found Yes moving toward the more complex waters of jazz rock — sparked by the replacement of Rick Wakeman with Patrick Moraz. Unsurprisingly, these songs grew out of jam sessions. That informality opened up new vistas of improvisational freedom for Yes, if only for a moment.

“We had been jamming quite a bit, especially with Chris [Squire] and Alan [White], from the time I joined the band,” Moraz tells us, in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown. “We had many, many jam sessions and co-compositions, those kind of things. On some of those things, we very close to the edge of jazz rock, and over time it might have taken us maybe much further.”

Indeed, Squire and White have never sounded more in sync, while Jon Anderson constructs some of his most involving prose poems. In keeping with its recording site inside Squire’s garage, Steve Howe provides the project’s edge, adding crunchy electric and pedal steel guitar throughout what quickly became known as one of Yes’ most musically complex albums.

This all but ensured that the endlessly challenging Relayer, recently re-released with a new 5.1 surround-sound remix, couldn’t match the UK charttopping success of either its predecessor Tales from Topographic Oceans or the subsequent Going for the One.

But Relayer has, in some respects, aged better than either — thanks in no small way to the fizzy creativity of Moraz, who brought to bear a number of new keyboard sounds like the custom-built polyphonic Vako Orchestron. Side 2 compositions “Sound Chaser” and, in particular, “To Be Over” best illustrate his sweeping (if far too brief) impact. “Not many journalists are asking me about ‘To Be Over,'” Moraz says, “and I have to tell you that the ending solo, I remember having written it down that very night. Suddenly, they wanted to change the key. I had to rewrite the entire thing. So, on one night, I did two different versions of that — and all written on paper. That’s how it came about.”

The album’s centerpiece moment, however, remains the nearly 22-minute “Gates of Delirium.” Based on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, this album-opening composition famously erupts into a lengthy all-instrumental battle scene only to finally settle into a quiet peace prayer called “Soon,” which was later edited out for a single. The harder, more guitar-oriented sound found throughout Relayer — accompanied by the clanging of metal car parts, at one point — is perhaps nowhere more obvious than during this song’s cacophonous middle section, which Jon Anderson tells us grew out a segmented creative process.

“I sort of wrote the thing on piano, very badly, then went in and played it for them — again, very badly — but they understood it,” Anderson says, in a separate Something Else! Sitdown. “I told them how we would start it, then made the thundering sounds. I talked about this enormous energy, and then went into the battlefield section, then out of that we would all sing ‘Soon.’ We all worked on it together. They started working on the first section, then I would work in the second section and so on. We stayed ahead of the rehearsals. Steve and I wrote all the parts out on cassettes, and I would be listening and working on the next part so we would keep the structure. Thankfully, they got it.”

Yes, it seemed, had found a way once more to balance challenging song structures and the determinedly spiritual, deftly combining these tried-and-true elements of their sound with ever-more-complex instrumental interludes — and regaining a good part of the creative momentum lost by the divisive, overly ambitious Tales from Topographic Oceans.

Unfortunately, it would not last. As early sessions got underway for the album that would become 1977’s Going for the One, this jazzier new direction for Yes came to an abrupt halt with the return of Rick Wakeman.

“We had decided to do some writing — starting in 1975, when I was also helping Chris and Steve to record some music,” Patrick Moraz tells us. “We had started to compose and to co-compose and to gather material for what was going to be the album Going for the One, and I was very much involved in the composing of ‘Awaken’ at the time. I even recorded one or two tracks in the very, very beginning — in the early stages of sessions in 1976. I recorded some basic tracks for what was going to become ‘Awaken,’ and other tracks for Going for the One. Unfortunately, those were taken out, to allow Rick to come back to the band.”

Moraz ultimately repurposed the work he had done on “Awaken” into a solo song called “Time for a Change,” released in 1977. “When I had to exit Yes at the end of ’76, I started a new album of mine — and I decided call the album Out in the Sun,” Moraz adds. “Maybe I should have called it Time for a Change! It’s a long track; it’s the last track. There were two or three movements that were part of ‘Time for a Change.’ The very beginning of it, the first minute and half or so, reflect what I had actually co-composed for the song ‘Awaken’ itself. It’s a very beautiful kind of piece, which I used as an introduction. What ended up on the record, which is being played by Rick, is completely different than what I would have written. But music is music, right? [Laughs.]”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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